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11 Examples of Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is a pragmatic school of sociological theory that focuses on the subjective experience of people, language, communication and social interaction. The following are basic elements of symbolic interactionism.

Social Interaction

Individuals interact with each other to create shared meaning based on language.


Humans are viewed as social beings that organize around a concept of self. This self is oriented to social processes but also has other dimensions such as creativity and purpose.

Subjective Experience

People perceive social context, social constructs and shared meaning with others. They can describe this to researchers and interactionists view this is a viewed as a primary source of information for sociological research.

Rejection of Data

Symbolic interactionists reject research methods based on statistical analysis, data analysis and objective interpretation. This is based on the view that humans aren't objects to be observed because they understand their own reality and can communicate such that you can simply ask them why they do things as opposed to observing them and crunching data.

Research Methods

Interactionist research methods seek out personal perspectives with unstructured interviews, case studies, participant observation and analysis of documents such as historical accounts.


Symbolic interactionism is rooted in the philosophy of pragmatism whereby a social element exists if people believe it exists. For example, if most people in a society believe that respect is important then respect exists as a social construct.

Objective Reality

Symbolic interactionism is based on pragmatic assumptions such as the idea that objective reality, physical reality and universal truths exist. This again stems from talking to people with the pragmatic approach. People commonly believe that a shared physical reality exists and that this has some universal properties such that this is a reasonable assumption for a sociological theory.


Symbolic interactionism isn't based on any ideological assumptions such as critical theory that assumes that all social interactions are based on power. For example, if people say they are motivated by love and that they trust others this would not be dismissed.

Behavior & Social Meaning

According to social interactionists behavior is shaped by meaning that is primarily obtained through social processes. This is fairly intuitive and in line with the pragmatic nature of the approach.


Social interactionists view thinking as an inner communication process that mirrors social processes. As such, they view humans as thoroughly social beings whereby the basis of thought is language that is socially constructed and transmitted.


Individuals are viewed as interpreting and negotiating social meaning such that they play a role in defining and changing this meaning. This can be contrasted with critical theory that views meaning such as language as originating with a power structure.
Overview: Symbolic Interactionism
A pragmatic approach to sociological theory that focuses on the subjective experience of people, language, communication and social interaction.
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